LETTER FROM ONTARIO
Test, test and retest
America's newly confirmed mad cow raises more trade question no matter which side of the US/Canadian border you lie

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

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June 20, 2005: The story of mad cow disease in North America took another twist over the weekend. From a Canadian perspective it is bad news with a silver lining.

The Americans have sent brain material from a previously tested cow to England for a final independent test. The change in American rhetoric about the disease is dramatic. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns is already on record stressing that trading partners have assumed that BSE exists in the U.S. at some level. Right on! That has been the Canadian view since May 20, 2003. The discovery of that first sick cow in Alberta, more than two years ago, meant that the disease existed in the North American herd. But Johanns chose his words carefully, designed primarily to reassure trading partners, like Japan and South Korea, that the latest discovery should not affect negotiations about borders.

Whether this cow turns out to be “born in the U.S. of A.” is more important to the Canadian perspective than the confirmation of the test. The rejection of the integrated North American view has been a tenet of cattle producers group, R-CALF USA. They spearheaded the lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and won a preliminary injunction to opening the border to Canadian live cattle. Confirmation that mad cow disease is a North American problem will be the silver lining.

What’s the bad news? This case raises more questions and is likely to create more delays in the court cases about border rules.

More Questions

Why did the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Agriculture order new tests last week for three cows previously tested? The inspector general is an independent arm of USDA that performs audits and investigations. The previous tests were done last November and before. Why retest seven months after the fact? Is this order to do an additional test, the type of test used by Europe and Japan, a rap on the knuckles for USDA’s standard testing protocol? Auditors noticed “an unusual pattern of conflicting test results." Audit findings will be released in late summer.

More Delays

Suddenly the court dates set for July to deal with the injunction against USDA’s rule to open the border to our live cattle aren’t a sure thing. I can imagine various groups calling their lawyers this week to say: We need to rewrite our legal briefs. We need more time to properly prepare. The inspector general’s involvement changes all the arguments about the adequacy of the USDA’s approach to testing and therefore its acceptance of Canada’s approach to testing.

This turn in the saga of a very few mad cows will renew the debate about testing. Which test?

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